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Xi confidant and rising Chinese political star promoted
[SHANGHAI] China on Saturday named rising political star Chen Miner as Communist Party boss in southwestern Chongqing, cementing his reputation as a favourite of President Xi Jinping ahead of a leadership reshuffle at a key party congress in the autumn.
The elevation of Mr Chen, a trusted confidant of Mr Xi, is a sign the president is flexing his political muscles as he manoeuvres to line up a new Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of political power in China.
Mr Chen previously worked under Mr Xi in Zhejiang province, where Mr Xi was then provincial party leader, and has since ridden the coat-tails of his former boss, climbing rapidly through the party ranks. Foreign diplomats who have met Mr Chen say he talks openly about his closeness to Mr Xi.
Mr Chen, who moves to Chongqing from the poor southwestern province of Guizhou, takes over from Sun Zhengcai, the official news agency Xinhua said in a brief report, without saying where Mr Sun would go next.
Chongqing is perhaps best known for its association with its disgraced former party boss Bo Xilai, once himself a contender for top leadership before being jailed for life in 2013 in a dramatic corruption scandal.
Mr Chen was made Guizhou deputy party secretary in 2012, but was promoted to governor less than a year later and within roughly a month of Mr Xi becoming president, before moving up again to his current role as Guizhou party boss in 2015.
Sources with ties to the leadership had said Mr Chen could jump straight into the Standing Committee with Mr Xi's support potentially easing out contenders from rival factions, though Mr Chen is still considered a dark horse candidate.
The switch from Guizhou to the more high-profile Chongqing role signals that Mr Chen is virtually assured of a Politburo spot. But the change so close to the 19th Party Congress may mean he has to wait longer for further promotion, as it would be unusual to move the holder of such an important post within months.
Mr Sun had been seen as another potential candidate for elevation, but his star has waned.
Sources with ties to the leadership and foreign diplomats say Mr Sun has been out of favour after the party's anti-corruption watchdog this year criticised Chongqing authorities for not doing enough to root out Bo's influence.
For decades, Guizhou was one of China's most backward provinces, but in recent years the central government has poured in billions of yuan, with a focus on poverty alleviation and big data.
Mr Xinhua said Guizhou governor Sun Zhigang, who is not related to Sun Zhengcai, had taken over as the province's party chief.